Sports

Top 10 moments in sports for the year in Middle Georgia and around the state

Here are The Telegraph’s best sports photos for 2018

A lot has happened in sports news this year in Middle Georgia. Watch the year in photos.
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A lot has happened in sports news this year in Middle Georgia. Watch the year in photos.

Sports has the power to make you laugh, make you cry, leave you breathless and in awe of the moments happening right before your eyes. This year in the state of Georgia, we saw moments that elicited almost every emotion in the book.

From the heartbreaking heave that cost the Georgia Bulldogs a National Championship to the moment Tiger Woods walked off the course in Atlanta a winner once again, we’ve compiled a list of the biggest moments in sports from Middle Georgia and around the state that left those in attendance and at home wanting more.

1. Crucial call costs Middle Georgia team a state title two years in a row

In 2017, Peach County suffered defeat at the hands of Calhoun. Yet the only thing people remember from that game is the late call that would seal the game for Calhoun. Noah Whittington caught what looked to be the go-ahead touchdown late in the fourth quarter. He stretched his arm out to reach for the pylon and it popped free. The call on the field was an incomplete pass despite the fact that Whittington secured the ball before running up the field. Peach County filed an appeal but was ultimately shot down by the GHSA after hearing and seeing the evidence from the game.

Fast forward to this year.

The Warner Robins Demon fought back from down 28 to tie the game against Bainbridge and force overtime. In the second overtime period, the Demons kicked the ball through the upright but after the kick a Bainbridge player tackled the kicker. The flag flew on the field and it was announced the penalty was roughing the kicker.

The rule book says that roughing the kicker is an automatic first down if the penalty is accepted. The referee announced that Warner Robins had declined the penalty and elected to keep the points on the board. Had it been accepted, it would have given Warner Robins the ball at 1-yard line with four chances to score.

Instead the Demons would lose the game in the following overtime period. The GHSA and head coach of the Demons, Mike Chastain, disagree on what happened with the call. Chastain said that he was not given the option of a first down and that the sideline judge misinformed him of the rules.

The GHSA’s executive director, Robin Hines, said that the GHSA conducted an investigation and its findings were that the coach was offered the first down based on two independent officials listening to the call through the radio communication piece that the sideline judge was using at the time. Those two independent officials told Hines that the options were given clear and correctly to the coach. The two individuals are in place to oversee that the rules are applied correctly.

While we may never know what happened on the sideline during that call, it will forever go down in Middle Georgia sports history.

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Warner Robins head coach Mike Chastain watches from the sidelines during the Demons’ 47-41 triple overtime loss Tuesday in the GHSA State Championship game to Bainbridge. Jason Vorhees jvorhees@macon.com

2. Georgia wins the Rose Bowl

The Bulldogs fell behind early to Baker Mayfield and the Oklahoma Sooners. Sony Michel and Nick Chubb had other plans. The pair help Georgia tie the game in regulation. Michel would cap the victory in overtime to send the Bulldogs to their first national championship game since the 1980s.

The Bulldogs would go on to face Alabama in the title game only to fall in overtime. Georgia enjoyed one of its most successful back-to-back seasons to date with an SEC Championship win, a Rose Bowl victory, another SEC Championship appearance and locked up a Sugar Bowl appearance against Texas in 2019.

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Georgia running back Sony Michel (1) carries the ball to score a touchdown in overtime against Oklahoma in the Rose Bowl NCAA college football game, Monday, Jan. 1, 2018, in Pasadena, Calif. Georgia won 54-48. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong) Jae C. Hong AP

3. Atlanta United capture the MLS Cup

The Five Stripes are just in their second season of Major League Soccer but already have silverware to display inside Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Atlanta United led the race for the Supporters Shield for much of the season, by leading the league in points but a loss on the last day of the season cost them the title. Critics counted Atlanta United out at this point as it seemed the team was in free fall.

Once in the playoffs though, the team was able to navigate through New York FC in first round followed by a win over the New York Red Bulls in the semifinals. The club would then knock off the Portland Timbers in the final. This was the first professional sports title for the state of Georgia since the Braves won the World Series in 1995.

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Atlanta United’s Franco Escobar (2) celebrates a score with teammate Jeff Larentowicz in the second half of the MLS Cup championship soccer game against the Portland Timbers on Saturday in Atlanta. Todd Kirkland AP

4. Tobias Oliver runs into the record books at Georgia Tech

The Northside product finally got his chance under center at Georgia Tech when starter Taquon Marshall went out with an injury. Tobias Oliver made the most of his opportunity. In his first career start versus Virginia Tech he rushed for 215 yards, good for the seventh best performance all-time in the school’s history. Oliver had three touchdowns in the game and led the Jackets to a 49-28 win. Oliver was used more after this game and finished the season with 152 attempts for 876 yards and three touchdowns. He also passed for a pair of touchdowns.

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Georgia Tech quarterback Tobias Oliver (18) looks to pass during the first half of an NCAA college football game against Duke in Durham, N.C., Saturday, Nov. 18, 2017. (AP Photo/Ben McKeown)

5. Braves’ Ronald Acuña wins the Rookie of the Year award

”Acuña Matata,” what a wonderful phrase — and one Braves fan will utter for a long time when talking about rookie phenom Ronald Acuña. He wasn’t called up until April 25. He missed a month with injuries. He struggled to find his place in the lineup where he could be the most effective. Still, 2018 became the year of Acuña. He hit 26 homes with .293 batting average in 111 of the club’s 162 games.

After the All-Star break, he was moved to the lead-off position in the order. That is when it all clicked for Acuña. He 85 hits and 19 home runs after the break. He also set a Braves record for the most leadoff home runs with eight. He secured the Rookie of the Year award and also helped led the Braves back to the postseason. It won its division in big part thanks to Acuña.

In the playoffs, he delivered one of the all time greatest Braves moments when he hit a towering shot for a grand slam to help power the team to a win over the Dodgers. Despite losing the series, this will be one that Braves fans talk about for a long time. He became the youngest player ever to hit a grand slam in a postseason game.

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Atlanta Braves’ Ronald Acuna Jr. (13) runs to first after hitting a grand-slam homer against Los Angeles Dodgers starting pitcher Walker Buehler during the second inning in Game 3 of MLB baseball’s National League Division Series, Sunday, Oct. 7, 2018, in Atlanta. John Amis AP

6. Middle Georgia has 3 teams compete in the high school state title games

Three teams all within 20 minutes of one another (and two separated by Watson Boulevard) all ended up inside Mercedes-Benz Stadium for the state title games. Warner Robins, Northside and Peach County each reached the title game despite facing adversity throughout the season.

Warner Robins lost to Rome a season ago, only to navigate all the way back to the semifinals this season to set up another matchup with, you guessed it, Rome. This time the Demons would prevail to punch its ticket to the big game. Throughout the season it dealt with hard times. The team was forced to forfeit a game to Harris County due to an ineligible player receiving playing time. It turned a guaranteed region title into having to beat Veterans to secure. The Demons would knock off Veterans to earn the 1 seed in the tournament. Warner Robins was also without key player Tyler Fromm for much of the season as he worked through an injury. Players like Marcayll Jones were forced to step up and did by setting the start record for the most receiving yards in a season.

Peach County fought back following the devastating loss to Calhoun in the title game in 2017 to secure a spot in the title game this year by beating that same Calhoun team. Peach County had a big year by winning the region and then going on a run in the playoffs. The Trojans would once again have their hearts broken as Cedar Grove would score with four seconds left in the game to prevail 14-13.

Northside might have a case for the best story of any team in the state. It finished the regular season at 5-5. It didn’t win its own region. It didn’t even finish second. Yet, the Eagles would ride a wave of momentum all the way to the state title game. It squared off Lee County, the winner of the Eagles region. Northside would fall 14-0 in the state title game but for a team that was on the brink of missing the postseason all together a title game appearance far exceeded expectations.

7. Valdosta State captures the Division Two national championship

The Valdosta State Blazers put on a show this season. The team capped off a perfect 14-0 season with a win over Ferris State in the D2 national championship. The Blazers didn’t play many close games until the playoffs as the team blew out most schools by double digits. The team added its first national title to the trophy case since 2012 and fourth since 2004.

8. Tiger Woods wins at East Lake in Atlanta

The scene will be etched into the minds of golf fans for a long time. Coming up to the 18th green, fans stormed the course and walk alongside Tiger Woods to the green. Phones filled the air to try and capture the moment when Woods became a winner once again.

This time in the state of Georgia, while it wasn’t in Augusta for another major title, it was for the Tour Championship at East Lake down the road in Atlanta. This one may have just as sweet for Woods and his fans. Woods had not won a tournament since the 2013 WGC-Bridgestone Invitational. It was a great relief for the 14-time major winner to finally capture his 80th win overall.

While there were other stories that topped Woods on this list due to their impact in our local communities, Woods will take the top spot in our forthcoming national list as it was considered the biggest sports story of the year. It was included here as well because it happened in the state of Georgia.

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The scene on the 18th fairway before Tiger Woods captured the Tour Championship Justin Baxley jbaxley@macon.com

9. Upson-Lee boys basketball runs win streak to 75 games

Upson-Lee went a long time without losing a game — 75 straight games to be exact — and grabbed back-to-back state championships. The winning streak went from Feb. 17, 2016, until it was ended by Discovery on Dec. 22, 2018. It ranks as the third-longest winning streak in the state’s history. While the streak may be over, the team is still looking to win a third straight title game.

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Upson-Lee boys basketball head coach Darrell Lockhart, the All-Middle Georgia Boys Basketball Coach of the Year, carries the championship trophy back to the locker room after winning the GHSA Class 4A final against St. Pius X. Clay Teague photo@macon.com

10. Macon Bacon debut

Baseball came back to Macon in 2018 in the form of a Coastal Plain League team named after a breakfast food and hamburger topping. The mascot named Kevin…Bacon was an instant hit as he traveled around the community to generate some sizzle around the team. The Bacon are committed to bringing entertainment to the game of baseball. All-you-can eat food is just one of the many tactics that the team used to get people out to the ballpark, and it worked. The team finished in the top 10 in the country in attendance for all the summer collegiate leagues. Alongside the Macon Mayhem, the city of Macon is on the rise in terms of sports teams.

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Spotted@ The Macon Bacon Opening Day on Friday, June 1, 2018, in Macon

Honorable Mentions

Mercer women’s basketball historic season

Mercer women’s basketball team put together arguably the best season of any team mentioned above. The team went 30-3 on the season and found its way into the NCAA Tournament.

The Bears and head coach Susie Gardner put the basketball world on notice when they took the University of Georgia down to the wire in the tournament game.

The team was led by three-time SoCon Player of the Year, Kahlia Lawrence. Lawrence would go on to be selected in the second round of the WNBA draft.

The team put together the greatest season in Mercer women’s basketball history and arguably the greatest season by any Mercer team ever.

Coaching carousel in the state

The University of Georgia landed Tom Crean in basketball after Mark Fox was let go last season. The Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets saw Paul Johnson retire as the head coach of the football team. It found its replacement in Geoff Collins a few weeks later. The University of Georgia also saw its defensive coordinator Mel Tucker leave to be the head coach at Colorado. Georgia Southern had a big turn around under Chad Lunsford in his first season. He put a punctuation mark on the team’s 10-3 record with a win in the Raycom Media Camellia Bowl.

Warner Robins wins boy’s basketball title and Tattnall takes home a baseball title

The team earned a state title in basketball after going 28-3 on the season. The Demons capped an impressive season with a three point win over Miller Grove. The Demons are off to a hot start this season they look to repeat as state champions. Tattnall went 33-4 in 2018 while winning the GHSA Private A State Championship. Tattnall cruised to a win over Prince Avenue Christian.

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